Duncan Fletcher talks with Tobia Poltronieri, founding member of Italian psych-collective C+C=Maxigross, about their new album and self-curated festival.
“Since we were kids we organised illegal parties in the hills, in basements and in the mountains… After many years we decided to do our real thing, Lessinia Psych Fest was born in 2014 in a garden of a friend's house in the mountains. Jennifer Gentle and Miles Cooper Seaton from Akron/Family were the headliners. We met Miles at that festival, he was touring Italy by himself at the time. Now he lives in Verona with us… Just to make you understand that the vibe here is REALLY GOOD!… Finally the festival is growing! Next year you’re invited, and your readers too!”
Anyone craving a unique boutique festival experience is advised to accept this invitation from Tobia Poltronieri, founding member of C+C=Maxigross, an ever mutating collective who organise their own festival each July in the mountains near Verona. The band (whose name is taken from a local cash and carry) have a sound that mixes the organic mushroomy goodness of the early '70s, with the playful wide-eyed wonder of contemporaries such as The Flaming Lips, Devendra Banhart and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Their willingness to experiment and improvise, coupled with state-of-the-art pop production marks them out as standard bearers for 21st century freak-folk.
Their recently released 2nd LP Fluttarn is titled in Cimbrian, an arcane local language found only in the Lessinia hills. Fluttarn translates as "to flutter, to fly about or fly away". “For us Lessinia is pure magic and mystery”, say Tobia, “and one of these strange sides is this ancient and almost dead language, “Cimbro”, from the German people who came here in the Middle Ages. Sadly almost nobody’s talking in this language today.”
The language may be in danger but the beauty of their homeland remains a more permanent inspiration - “Only people from Verona go there… sad cos it's definitely worth a look! These mountains are amazing, gentle pre-Alps, wonderful and magic! This place has been the shelter for our relaxation and creativity, where to go when we want to escape the city and its hustle and bustle. With our label, Vaggimal records, we started to record other bands in our studio in the mountains, we spent a lot of time there, creating and exploring music, letting the good vibes take over.”
Aside from the hills the band cite their prime influence as Os Mutantes, one that extends beyond music - “Their music is amazing! Crazy, free, colourful, unexpected, melodic and groovy. Our vibes! But also the context where they grew up: a nation under a dictator, far from the Anglo-American scene they loved (from Haight-Ashbury to Swingin’ London, you know better than me)... Starting from Brazil, they created their own world, so strong and unique that still now has lots to say. It’s the thing we like to do: mix cultures and inspirations to create something new. I mean, we’re a free form band from the north of Italy, singing in English, playing crazy psych vibes and always travelling Europe with different musicians and artists... At least we try to do our thing! Then we will see... Bat Macumba!”
Fluttarn is out now on Trovarobato/Vaggimal Records.
Can you tell us about how you met and formed the band.
The original band started as a bunch of friends around 2008… We have know each other since we were kids. Then many many other people have been involved… We changed line up so many times, for that reason we’ve always defined C+C=Maxigross more as a project and an artistic collective than a standard band.
C+C=Maxigross is an unusual name, how did that come about and what exactly does it mean?
Oh yeah, for us it’s really funny… We chose this name just before starting to play as a band, only for fun ‘cuz we stole it from a Cash & Carry Company based in Verona. So far they’ve never called us to talk about it so I think we’re ok…
Is this your first band or have any of you been previously involved with other acts?
Me, Tobia, as a founder member I’ve played in other two bands from Verona, Ancher & Klein Blue. With Ancher I played a bit around Italy and in Europe, but only with C+C we started to play a lot! Filippo the bassist is founder as me! The other members, always changing, have been involved in many other acts… Niccolò has played with The Lovecats, Camillo in Hardcobaleno right now, Giulio in Ancher too and many many other different projects.
Lessinia is an area of Italy that not many of our readers will have heard of. What makes the place so special?
It’s absolutely unknown just outside of our city Verona. Only people from Verona go there… And it’s sad cos it is definitely worth a look! These mountains are amazing, gentle pre Alps, wonderful and magic! For us this place has been the shelter for our relax and creativity, where to go when we wanted to escape from the city and its hustle and bustle. Then with our own label, Vaggimal records we started to record other bands in our studio in the mountains so we spent really a lot of time there, creating and exploring music and letting the good vibes take over it.
Some of the songs on your first album were recorded by Marco Fasolo from Jennifer Gentle, how did that pairing happen?
Jennifer Gentle has been always one of our favorite bands… So after we released our first ep (recorded by us under Vaggimal records) we decided to try to work with an artist we liked. So we contacted him and it’s started an amazing friendship with this unique artist. We’ve learnt so much from him, and we’re so grateful to him for being so inspiring for us. In our last album he sings in the second song “Born Into It”. It’s an immense pleasure and gift.
The song titles on Fluttarn, Ruvain and your first EP Singar are all in Cimbrian, can you tell us a little bit about the language and what made you decide to use it for your titles?
For us Lessinia is pure magic and mystery. And one of these strange sides is this ancient and almost dead language, “Cimbro”, from the German people who came here in the Middle Age. Sadly almost nobody’s still talking in this language today. Titling our first three operas in this language have been an humble homage to this land. There would be so many others crazy aspects and story about this place to tell… Next projects maybe!
How have the locals reacted to your music?
I think good, they know there’s a band of freaks who love their mountains and spend time there… I don’t know if they like our psych folk stuff, but sometimes happened to playing popular celebration of some small villages and it was real fun!
You've previously cited Os Mutantes as a big influence, what is it about them that you like?
Os Mutantes have been always a huge influence for us for many reasons… First of all their music is AMAZING: crazy, free, colourful, unexpected, melodic and groovy. Our vibes. But also it’s really interesting the context where they grew up: a nation under a dictator really, really far from the anglo-american scene they loved (from Haight-Ashbury to the Swingin’ London, you know better than me)… Starting from Brazil, they created they own world, so strong and unique that still now has a lot to say. It’s the thing that we would like to do with our project: mix different cultures and inspirations to create something new. I mean, we’re a free form band from the north of Italy, singing in English, playing crazy psych vibes and always traveling Europe with different musicians and artists… At least we try to do our thing! Then we will see… Bat Macumba!!!
How did you come to start your own festival?
Since we were kids we organised illegal parties in the hills, in some basements and in the mountains… But then after many years we decided to do our real thing. Lessinia Psych Fest was born in 2014 in a garden of an house of friend in the mountains. Jennifer Gentle and Miles Cooper Seaton from Akron/Family were the headliners. We met Miles in that festival, he was touring Italy by himself at the time. Now he lives in Verona with us… Just to make you understand that the vibe here is REALLY GOOD and pretty impressive! Now we’ve just finished the third edition, some weeks ago… Many many people wow! Finally the festival is growing! Of course next year you’re invited, and your readers too!
Similarly what are the joys or running your own? And also difficulties and downsides?
It’s a huge amount of energies, pressures, risks and of course money to invest by ourselves. But on the other side if you don’t take risks by yourself nobody will take them of you. So it’s something we have to do it. The first year we lost a lot of money. The second edition we only covered the costs. This edition we earned some money to invest in the next edition. That’s life.
Your favourite festival highlights so far?
Jennifer Gentle always amazing, Miles Cooper Seaton so strong, Lino Capra Vaccina a true legend, Krano so chilling, The Pussywarmers real fun and IOSONOUNCANE is the best italian act since Lucio Battisti (Italian pop legend). He’s the one.
What can people expect at your festival that they wouldn't find elsewhere?
Imagine a forgotten green valley far from everything where 1500 people spend three joyful days, with artists from all over the world, wild nature, cows and the best local food and the strongest drinks you can find. It’s unique and you’ve to suck it and see.
If you could have anyone in your dream line-up (acts past or present)?
Talking about legends we need Sun Ra Arkestra. About present acts we would like to have Mbongwana Star. We’ve seen them at Primavera Sound and they’re the THING everybody needs in their playlists.
Any plans for further recordings? How might they differ from from your first two albums?
Oh yeah, we’re always working on new stuff… I don’t know when we’ll start to record ‘cuz in this period we’re touring a lot but now we’re a five pieces band with two drums and sometime we play in sextet with Miles Cooper Seaton so I think this is the right direction to go higher than the sun!